About amyMRM

Senior Strategic Planner, travel and beer enthusiast

Amazon’s Alexa may eventually serve up ads…maybe, maybe not?

It was only a matter of time, folks.

According to a report from CNBC, Amazon is in talks with brands and advertisers to include ads on the Echo through via Alexa. The report says that Amazon is discussing these opportunities with Procter & Gamble and Clorox.

Just as ads found their way to the newspaper, the radio, the television, the internet, and even to our inbox and inside our apps, it only makes sense for advertisers to follow us to the next frontier of voice-powered AI.

There are two obvious paths to potentially advertising on Alexa.

The first is to let brands pay for placement when users are shopping through Alexa. For example, Proctor & Gamble could pay for Bounty to be the first brand recommended when a user asks for Alexa to purchase paper towels. Of course, these ads could be ultra-smart given the data Amazon already has about each individual user’s buying history.

The second channel for advertising could come via Alexa Skills. For example, a skill that tells users movie showtimes could suggest buying tickets through Fandango.

Paid search ads via voice could be much more effective than the paid search ads you see on the web, as with Google. On the web, many have grown numb to ad search results and can easily scroll past them to real search results. On a voice platform, it takes far more work to ‘scroll past’ the first result presented. Plus, depending on how Amazon presents paid results, it may be more difficult to decipher paid results from actual results.

Amazon, however, responded to CNBC saying that “the company has no plans to add advertisements to Alexa.” Obviously, this is just a rumor at the moment but it would be far from shocking if ads hit the Alexa platform. An Amazon spokesperson responded to request for comment with the same quote they gave CNBC: “There are no plan to add advertising to Alexa.”

Source: TechCrunch

Why It’s Hot

Regardless of whether this is real news now or not, it’s still interesting to consider and potentially inevitable. Brands are bound to want in on this expanding space — can the Amazons and Google’s of the world hold them back? Should they?

Google’s Moving Year in Search Video Shows How We Got Through the Hell of 2017

The search giant’s recap of 2017 includes footage of wildfires, hurricanes, gun violence, threats of nuclear war, protests and so much more—pretty much 2017 in a nutshell. Yet, Google managed to make all this uplifting.

Using Harry Styles’ “Sign of the Times,” Google’s video shows the perseverance of the human spirit and may even inspire you to make a difference for the people still reeling from the various tragedies we’ve seen this year. It also manages to provide comfort with a “you’re not alone” vibe, reminding you that others are feeling that sense of powerlessness and existential dread, too—and that if we come together, we can let those feelings drive us to change the world.

Google also gathered some of the year’s top searches, and some of them are a real punch to the gut. see more here

Source: AdWeek

Why It’s Hot

Search data provides deep insight into how we operate as a culture.

 

GM brings Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks Ordering to Cars

General Motors is launching a new in-vehicle app named Marketplace that will allow drivers to pay for goods such as gasoline or coffee and schedule service through their infotainment systems.

The automaker expects the free technology, which it is calling an industry first, to quickly expand from about a dozen offerings, such as ordering Dunkin’ Donuts or reserving a table at TGI Fridays, to other services such as Starbucks orders and dealership services, including oil changes.

“We are using it also to improve how our customers interact with the vehicle and the dealership network,” says Santiago Chamorro, GM vice president of global connected customer experience. He emphasized the connections are secure, and Marketplace is not meant to be an in-vehicle digital billboard.

In-vehicle marketplaces and app-based services have been discussed for years. Offerings such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto mirror smartphone apps onto the vehicle’s infotainment screens but do not complete financial transactions.

Some services such as ordering Dunkin’ Donuts for pick up require drivers to have an account or profile with the store. Marketplace uses recent and favorite foods and settings from the profiles to customize the offerings for the driver. Deals and membership rewards are currently available from gas stations. Paying for gasoline is expected to be available early next year.

Dealership services such as scheduling oil changes or other maintenance are expected to be added as early as next year. Vehicles will have the capability to alert drivers of needed services and schedule them, if the driver would like.

Other current partners with Marketplace include Wingstop, Shell, ExxonMobil, Priceline.com, Parkopedia, Applebee’s, IHOP and Delivery.com. Starbucks is expected to be added in early 2018.

According to Consumer Reports, though, “The bad news is that in its current state, there’s not much reward for drivers to actually use it—though the automaker promises that will change soon as it adds more options and retail partners….Ultimately, instead of opening up an e-commerce gateway, GM Marketplace acts more like a middleman with limited options, at least in its current state.”

Source: AdAge

Why It’s Hot:
Automotive innovation is not only about self-driving technology, but about retail and the new consumer expectations brands need to meet. The opportunity for e-commerce to be at your fingertips even while driving may open up more geo-fenced, trackable marketing opportunities.

Google’s Express Service Lets Shoppers Place Orders From Costco Without Membership

Stealing your family and friend’s membership cards is now no longer the only way to shop at Costco without a membership. The members-only wholesale retailer has recently partnered with Google’s shopping service, Google Express, to make some of its products available online in select locations where the Express service operates.

While there will be none of the delicious free samples Costco is known for, online shoppers can still purchase many of the retailer’s most popular items, including in-house brands like Kirkland. The service also features items from other major retailers, including Walmart and Target. Shoppers simply place their orders through the Google Express website, app, or Google Assistant-enabled devices like Google Home. Orders are then shipped directly to the customer’s home, and if they spend over a certain minimum, Google will waive the shipping fee entirely.

The only catch is that non-Costco members who make orders through Google Express must pay a $10 “access fee” to purchase Costco products, though this doesn’t apply for Costco members. The service is also only available in select locations, as shoppers in 10 states including Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah, and Wyoming cannot order without a Costco membership at all.

Source: PSFK

Retail brands are scrambling to provide better experiences for customers — via tech, via access, via personalization and more.

By partnering with major retail players like Costco, Walmart and Target, it places Google in a better position to challenge Amazon, which is currently in the process of expanding its footprint into physical retail spaces, namely through its acquisition of Whole Foods earlier this year.

Amazon Is Using AR To Help People See Before They Buy

Amazon joins the augmented reality scene with a feature on their application called AR view. This allows customers to virtually view how an item would look in their home prior to their purchase.

When a customer gets on the Amazon application they access the feature through the small camera icon located at the top right of the screen, and then choose the AR view option. From there, they can locate thousands of products to virtually place into their home to see how they would look. The customer viewing the item can rotate it around in a 360 degree fashion to see how it would look from multiple different angles in their home. This feature was announced alongside Amazon opening their Black Friday Deals Store.

The feature comes exclusively to Amazon application users who have an iPhone with the iOS 11 update. Amazon plans to make the feature available for Android phones sometime in the future.

Source: PSFK

Why It’s Hot

Expanded application to something IKEA offered years ago!

Honda Turns Fans’ Garages Into Pop-Up Dealerships

Car manufacturer Honda decided to address the shortage of dealerships in France by taking a slightly different approach to selling vehicles, relying on the experience and passion of its fans to present and test their 2017 range of SUVs. For the ‘Honda Next Door’ campaign by Sid Lee Paris, loyal Honda owners had their garages transformed into pop-up dealerships.

Honda chose to give its fans this unique opportunity because it believes they are the company’s best ambassadors. Those who wanted to check out the CR-V and HR-V could sign up online for a test drive and go to one of the eight pop-up dealerships in France.

Source: PSFK

Why It’s Hot:

It’s so frequent that brands try to tap into fans digitally, but turning it into something else entirely is note worthy. It’s also a creative solve to a logistics problem!

 

Uber introduces a credit card

Uber is getting into the credit card business.

Announced Wednesday in partnership with Barclays and Visa at the Money2020 conference in Las Vegas, the new card gives Uber yet another point of access to incredibly valuable customer information and marks another front in its campaign to assume a larger role in online and offline commerce.

Not content with just having a record of some of the comings and goings of the at least 10 million people that use the company’s ride-hailing service every day, Uber will now get a record of some of those folks’ daily purchases through the new card.

Starting November 2, Uber will give users the option to get the card right in its app, and will populate all of the information they have on file for their customers into the application.

The card is automatically available for use for Uber rides and UberEats purchases and a physical card will show up in the mail within a week or so.

The no-fee card offers a bonus of $100 after spending $500 on purchases within the first 90 days, and has other perks, like 4% back on restaurants, take-out and bar purchases; 3% back on airfare, hotels and Airbnb or other short-stay rentals; 2% back on online purchases; and 1% back on everything else. 

The app’s integration within Uber looks beautiful, and it’s a clever way to capture all that valuable data… If you’ve already given up on the notion that data is any way private or not a commodity, then the card is probably not a bad bet… the perks seem good.

Source: Tech Crunch 

Why It’s Hot

Because, data and customer experience. The implications for what data Uber can now have on their customers is immense, and it will be interesting to see how they innovate to turn that into more personalized service for their customers.

 

Google Maps Pulls Calorie-Counting Feature After Criticism

Stephanie Zerwas, the clinical director of the Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders at the University of North Carolina, was trying to find a restaurant in Orlando, Fla., last weekend, so she put the address into Google Maps for directions.

She was baffled to see a new feature: The iPhone app told her that walking instead of driving would burn 70 calories. While it was perhaps meant as an incentive to walk, those with eating disorders might instead fixate on the number, a dangerous mind-set that counselors try to minimize, she said.

“We’ve gotten into this habit of thinking about our bodies and the foods we take in and how much activity we do as this mathematical equation, and it’s really not,” she said. “The more we have technology that promotes that view, the more people who may develop eating disorders might be triggered into that pathway.”

On Monday night, Google pulled the feature, which it said was an experiment on its iOS app. The decision followed a wave of attention on social media; while some of the responses saw Google’s feature as promoting exercise, there were several complaints that it was dangerous or insulting.

Some users were especially upset that the app used mini cupcakes to put the burned calories into perspective, framing food as a reward for exercise, or exercise as a prerequisite for food. (One mini cupcake, it said, was worth a little less than 125 calories, but no information was provided about how that calculation was made.)

Calorie counting has long been a contentious topic at the nexus of nutrition, exercise and eating disorders. In New York, among other cities, some restaurants are required to post calorie numbers on their menus and displays, an effort the Trump administration is trying to overturn. The Affordable Care Act required some national restaurants to do the same, though the Food and Drug Administration repeatedly delayed the deadline.

Source: NY Times

Why It’s Hot: Interesting example of brands adjusting strategy based on social media feedback. What was probably considered a useful, helpful feature by developers was clearly not well received by customers.

Mayor to review 1,000 Amazon products in bid for company’s new HQ

It’s been about a month since Amazon announced it was accepting bids from US cities to host its second major headquarters. A city that comes away with a new Amazon campus could potentially see a significant economy boost, so competition will certainly be fierce. And with the deadline for cities to submit their proposals exactly one week away, Kansas City, Missouri has emerged as perhaps the city with the most creative strategy. As noted by VentureBeatKansas City mayor Sly James purchased 1,000 products from Amazon for charity and is reviewing every single one — and the reviews very quickly pivot into why his city would be a great place for the company’s new HQ.

James explained his plan with a few videos on Twitter and also set up a URL that lets interested parties (like Amazon) see everything he’s reviewed. Products run the gamut from 22-inch wind chimes priced at only $14.99 (“I live in beautiful Kansas City where the average home price is just $122K, so I know luxe living doesn’t have to cost a ton”) to the classic kids story Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (“Alexander had a really bad day, but here in KC, we’re ranked as one of the 20 happiest cities to work in right now…”). You get the idea.

Video here

Site here

James just kicked the program off earlier this week, but he already has posted dozens of reviews — though a read through his entertaining Twitter feed makes it sound as if he’s not actually doing all the posting himself. But there’s little doubt this goofy but heartfelt venture is driving some positive buzz for Kansas City. Whether or not that’ll make a difference in the bidding process remains to be seen, but the city does meet enough of Amazon’s criteria that it should be in the running.

Source: Engadget

Why it’s Hot:

Going all out for your city’s economic growth means more than formal pitches, apparently. Taking to social to find humorous and creative ways to stand out is a solid idea — let’s see how it pans out for KC’s chances!

 

Walmart Puts Its Eggs in a Time-Saving Basket: Grocery Pickup

In today’s installment of the the ongoing food/convenience/price/partnership saga…

Seeking an edge against Amazon, Walmart is pushing a service that delivers your order to your car. Customers never have to step inside the store.

A personal shopper is something you might expect at Bergdorf Goodman or a boutique on Madison Avenue.

Not at the Walmart on Route 42 in Turnersville, N.J.

But that’s where you will find Joann Joseph and a team of Walmart workers each day, filling up shopping carts with boxes of Honeycomb cereal, Cheez-Its and salted peanuts.

The customers select their groceries online, and then the shoppers pick the items off the store shelves and deliver them to people when they arrive in the parking lot. Customers never have to step inside the store.

“It’s about saving people time,” Ms. Joseph said as she helped load groceries into the back of a minivan one morning.

Walmart, which is one of the largest food retailers in the United States, sees grocery pickup as a way to marry its e-commerce business with its gigantic network of stores — a goal that has eluded many other retailers. The company started ramping up the service two years ago, and it is now available in about 1,000 of Walmart’s 4,699 stores across the country.

The initiative is the latest salvo in Walmart’s retail battle with Amazon, and the centerpiece of its strategy to gain the upper hand in the pursuit of consumers looking to streamline their food shopping.

Many retailers are focused on new ways to deliver groceries to people’s homes — particularly in big cities. Walmart is betting big on the millions of Americans in suburban and rural areas who drive everywhere. The company is trying to make ordering groceries online and then picking them up in your car as seamless as a fast-food drive-through.

Amid this heated competition, Walmart has been experimenting with different ways to get an edge. In a few cities, it works with Uber to deliver groceries to homes.

And last month, Walmart said it would begin testing a home-delivery service in which a worker loads the food into the refrigerator, even when no one is home. The customer can watch the process remotely from a home security camera and track when the delivery worker enters and leaves the house.

While these initiatives are limited to only a few states, the company’s grocery pickup is widespread. Walmart is betting that a big part of the country (“from Scranton to Sacramento,” one Walmart executive said) is more of a drive-through than delivery culture.

Source (and interesting longer article): NY Times

Why It’s Hot

This is business-model interesting! There is a lot going on in the grocery industry to deliver on customer demand for convenience. Walmart, as king of retail, needs to innovate while ensuring that they can maintain their fundamental model and prices. Fresh Direct, then UberEATs then Amazon + Whole Foods — create interesting pressures. Will Walmart stay ahead?

Uber adds a new feature for riders that teaches basic sign language

Uber has added a new feature to its app this month to support its deaf and hard of hearing drivers, a group the company says number in the thousands across its service. Uber says that these drivers have together completed millions of trips, and while it has added a number of features to its app over the years to provide additional support for those with hearing impairments, it’s going a step further with a new feature launching at the end of Deaf Awareness Month, which takes place in September.

The new feature will surface a card in the feed of the rider app when they’re paired up with a driver who is deaf or hard of hearing that will give them an option to learn some basic words and phrases in American Sign Language (ASL). The rider can select basic greeting like “Hello” and “Thank you,” or learn the letters to spell out their name so they can confirm it to the driver.

It’s a small thing, but a handy tool that could build on top of what Uber already does in-app for its hearing impaired drivers.

Check out the site here

Source: Tech Crunch

Why it’s Hot

Uber is fighting to show some goodness — Lyft launched a new campaign and has been taking on partnership like Uber used to do. This is a positive approach and potentially rather useful and engaging.

Williams Sonoma Will Soon Accept Payment Through Venmo

Home goods company Williams Sonoma will start accepting Venmo, the app that users link to their bank account or credit card in order to send money to their friends and family, as a form of payment for items on bridal registries.

Williams Sonoma hopes the new program will help the company appeal to a younger customer base that is accustomed to using the digital wallet service to pay back friends for expenses or easily split costs.

The retailer plans to begin accepting Venmo at all of its locations in early 2018.

Source: PSFK

Why it’s Hot: There’s been a lot of talk about brick and mortar’s survival in the digital age, but perhaps the key to adapting is to digitize payments and meet customers where they are.

Netflix is hiding ads for the new ‘Narcos’ season in places it thinks people did cocaine in the ’90s

Netflix just released the third season of the Narcos this past weekend. The only hitch? Everyone in the world knows Escobar, but not so much the Cali Cartel — the massive drug organization that ran its organization like a stealthy corporation around which the third season centers on.

Netflix has been plastering what would have been cocaine hotspots in the ’90s, aka bars and clubs and their bathrooms, with punny one-liners and facts about the Cali Cartel to educate viewers and build excitement around the latest season.

The streaming giant has placed stickers and coasters in locations across over 160 bars and hotspots in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Miami, where unknowing Cali Cartel customers may have used their product in the ‘90s. The campaign began rolling out Sept. 1.

One coaster, for example, features a rolled up $1 bill with a powdered white substance on the side and the lines “Need a great pickup line?” Another sticker shows a credit card next to several lines of a white powdered substance and the quote “The Cali Cartel built a $200 billion empire one line at a time.”

“We wanted to not only be disruptive and place the idea where people would least expect it, but it was just as important for us to continue the story that Netflix is telling,” said Jason Gaboriau, Doner Los Angeles’ chief creative officer. “Netflix is first and foremost about storytelling. This is just a continuation of the story — a segue if you will to the next chapter — in a contextual setting so we’d be heard.”

The contextual ads follow the same approach that Netflix has adopted in previous seasons, using fact-based campaigns and utilizing statistics to illustrate the storyline. Last year, before releasing the show’s second season, for instance, Netflix launched a Tumblr site called ‘Narcopedia’, an interactive experience that took viewers through the history of cocaine and provided in-depth information on the war on drugs.

The approach seems to be working. According to data crunched by social analytics firm Brandwatch, while there has been some mention of viewers “missing Pablo” online, the Cali Cartel is gaining prominence, with over 7,000 mentions over the past month versus “Pablo Escobar,” which has about 2,300 mentions.

Source: Business Insider

Why It’s Hot:

The last notable OOH contextual campaign I remember for OK Google was entertaining and insightful. It’s refreshing to see marketers having a good time with non-digital channels. And also notable that they are measuring it via social chatter — as often times we question how “stunts” can show measurable ROI.

From Sex Object to Gritty Woman: The Evolution of Women in Stock Photos

In 2007, the top-selling image for the search term “woman” in Getty Image’s library of stock photography was a naked woman lying on a bed, gazing at the camera with a towel draped over her bottom half.

In 2017, it’s a woman hiking a rocky trail in Banff National Park, alone on the edge of a cliff high above a turquoise lake. She’s wearing a down jacket and wool hat, and her face isn’t visible.

“It really feels like an image about power, about freedom, about trusting oneself,” said Pam Grossman, director of visual trends at Getty Images. “Who cares what you even look like? Let’s focus on what you’re doing.”

Stock photos — generic images that appear in places like ads, billboards, magazines and blogs — reflect the culture at a moment in time.

The change from women lounging naked (or perhaps laughing alone with salad) to women demonstrating physical or professional prowess was driven in part by the Lean In collection, which Getty developed in 2014 with Sheryl Sandberg’s nonprofit to seed media with more modern, diverse and empowering images of women. The collection, now with 14,000 photos, has the unofficial tagline, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

The 15 most downloaded images from the Lean In collection so far this year are four of fathers playing with children; four of girls and women involved in science and engineering; three of women being athletic; and four of women in business or school settings. 

When the Lean In collection began three years ago, the most downloaded photos showed women in work or family settings: a pregnant woman leading a business meeting or a father playing with a baby while the mother worked on her computer. The 15 most downloaded from the collection so far this year are more likely to show women scaling a wall or doing push-ups, alone. The images customers see when they search are determined by both popularity and human curation.

At Getty, they’ve given the trend a name: gritty woman. Ms. Grossman defined it as “images of women literally having dirt on them and not caring, of being powerful and strong.”

“Especially in light of the election last year,” she said, “it definitely seems like this idea of women having grit was a really important ongoing message, both rhetorically and visually.”

Source: NY Times

Why it’s Hot

We can find insights into our culture in non-traditional ways. Looking at stock imagery – essentially a marketing tool — revealing such truisms, is particualrly interesting

Google and Walmart Partner With Eye on Amazon

Google and Walmart are testing the notion that an enemy’s enemy is a friend.

The two companies said Google would start offering Walmart products to people who shop on Google Express, the company’s online shopping mall. It’s the first time the world’s biggest retailer has made its products available online in the United States outside of its own website.

The partnership, announced on Wednesday, is a testament to the mutual threat facing both companies from Amazon.com.

But working together does not ensure that they will be any more successful. For most consumers, Amazon remains the primary option for online shopping. No other retailer can match the size of Amazon’s inventory, the efficiency with which it moves shoppers from browsing to buying, or its many home delivery options.

The two companies said the partnership was less about how online shopping is done today, but where it is going in the future. They said that they foresaw Walmart customers reordering items they purchased in the past by speaking to Google Home, the company’s voice-controlled speaker and an answer to Amazon’s Echo. The eventual plan is for Walmart customers to also shop using the Google Assistant, the artificially intelligent software assistant found in smartphones running Google’s Android software.

Walmart customers can link their accounts to Google, allowing the technology giant to learn their past shopping behavior to better predict what they want in the future. Google said that because more than 20 percent of searches conducted on smartphones these days are done by voice, it expects voice-based shopping to be not far behind.

“We are trying to help customers shop in ways that they may have never imagined,” said Marc Lore, who is leading Walmart’s efforts to bolster its e-commerce business.

Google is a laggard in e-commerce. Since starting a shopping service in 2013, it has struggled to gather significant momentum. Initially, it offered free same-day delivery before scrapping it. It also tried delivery of groceries before abandoning that, too.

If Amazon is a department store with just about everything inside, then Google Express is a shopping mall populated by different retailers. There are more than 50 retailers on Google Express, including Target and Costco. Inside Google Express, a search for “toothpaste” will bring back options from about a dozen different retailers.

Google said it planned to offer free delivery — as long as shoppers met store purchase minimums — on products purchased on Google Express. Google had charged customers a $95 a year membership for free delivery. Amazon runs a similar program called Amazon Prime, offering free delivery for members who pay $99 a year.

Source: NY Times

Why it’s Hot

Amazon has been considerably powering forward of late — when it comes to partnerships, integrations, and expansions — and one was left wondering where the competition would net out. The future implications about data and voice integration are more interesting than the retail implications today, since Google is king at data integration.

Your Instagram Posts May Hold Clues to Your Mental Health

The photos you share online speak volumes. They can serve as a form of self-expression or a record of travel. They can reflect your style and your quirks. But they might convey even more than you realize: The photos you share may hold clues to your mental health, new research suggests.

From the colors and faces in their photos to the enhancements they make before posting them, Instagram users with a history of depression seem to present the world differently from their peers, according to the study, published this week in the journal EPJ Data Science.

“People in our sample who were depressed tended to post photos that, on a pixel-by-pixel basis, were bluer, darker and grayer on average than healthy people,” said Andrew Reece, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University and co-author of the study with Christopher Danforth, a professor at the University of Vermont.

The pair identified participants as “depressed” or “healthy” based on whether they reported having received a clinical diagnosis of depression in the past. They then used machine-learning tools to find patterns in the photos and to create a model predicting depression by the posts.

They found that depressed participants used fewer Instagram filters, those which allow users to digitally alter a photo’s brightness and coloring before it is posted. When these users did add a filter, they tended to choose “Inkwell,” which drains a photo of its color, making it black-and-white. The healthier users tended to prefer “Valencia,” which lightens a photo’s tint.

Depressed participants were more likely to post photos containing a face. But when healthier participants did post photos with faces, theirs tended to feature more of them, on average.

The researchers used software to analyze each photo’s hue, color saturation and brightness, as well as the number of faces it contained. They also collected information about the number of posts per user and the number of comments and likes on each post.

Though they warned that their findings may not apply to all Instagram users, Mr. Reece and Mr. Danforth argued that the results suggest that a similar machine-learning model could someday prove useful in conducting or augmenting mental health screenings.

“We reveal a great deal about our behavior with our activities,” Mr. Danforth said, “and we’re a lot more predictable than we’d like to think.”

Source: New York Times

Why It’s Hot

The link between photos and health is an interesting one to explore. The role of new/alternate technologies (or just creative ways of using existing ones) in identifying illness — whether mental or otherwise — is something we are sure to see more of.

It’s Late and You’ve Got the Munchies. Lyft and Taco Bell Have an Idea.

Taco Bell has, quite literally, found a new marketing vehicle, and its name is Lyft.

The fast-food chain is beginning a venture with the ride-sharing company this week that will allow Lyft passengers to request rides that incorporate a stop at a Taco Bell drive-through between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m.

The companies will test the option, which will appear as “Taco Mode” in the Lyft app, during the next two weeks around a Newport Beach, Calif., location, with plans to expand the program nationally next year.

It’s an attempt to tap into the trend of young people increasingly car-pooling through apps like Lyft and its larger rival Uber, particularly on nights out with friends. While Taco Bell offers delivery to customers and advertises the locations of its restaurants through the navigation app Waze, partnering with a ride-sharing company represents a new type of “experience innovation,” said Marisa Thalberg, Taco Bell’s chief marketing officer.

“I kind of think of this like inverse delivery — like we’re delivering you to Taco Bell,” she said in an interview. “You’re being delivered to the food as opposed to having to get in your own car and drive.”

As it stands, Lyft and Uber do not have stated policies about how drivers should handle passenger requests to swing by fast-food drive-throughs, though the question regularly pops up in online discussion forums for drivers.

“Several times I said no to food and they ask why and I explained what the last idiot did of making a mess and each time the present idiot would promise to not make a mess, spill, waste, etc. then they do it anyway!” one Uber driver wrote in an online forum.

Ms. Thalberg said her company had seen “a bunch of funny tweets” and other social media posts from hungry passengers on the topic, which got them thinking about a potential partnership with Lyft.

Taco Bell is not paying Lyft for the deal, which has been in the works for almost a year, Ms. Waters said. The companies are looking at the venture as “cocreating an experience together,” which cannot be evaluated the way one might look at traditional marketing efforts like television commercials and billboards, she said.

“Marketing today is so much about customer experience, not branding and advertising,” she said. “We’re really evaluating it from a surprise and delight for our consumer bases with a program like this and both meeting in the middle and developing it on both sides.”

Source: NY Times

Why It’s Hot

  • Uber used to be the partnership king, but perhaps their recent debacles have had brands thinking twice about their ride partnerships
  • Audience understanding  — experiences, not products — is the way to go.
  • It’s interesting to see how ride share, ride hire industry expands through partnerships and innovations to “own more of the user.”

Elon Musk says he has ‘verbal’ okay to build multi-state underground Hyperloop

Elon Musk said on Twitter that he received “verbal government approval” to build an underground Hyperloop transit network connecting New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC, with stops connecting each city center, and a dozen more entry or exit elevators located within each city. The project would be run through The Boring Company, Musk’s tunneling venture, which has already begun test digging near SpaceX HQ in California.

In the original tweet, Musk noted that the trip time from New York to DC would be just under half-an-hour. Currently, by train, that trip is roughly three hours and 20 minutes, or over four hours by bus. Musk also said that an LA to San Francisco loop is likely on the horizon, as well as a loop to connect Texas to the network.

Musk also originally came up with the concept for Hyperloop, though he opened up the idea to development by outside interests because he said at the time that he would not have enough time to devote to making it a business in its own right, in addition to his other duties. It’s not clear whether the Hyperloop component of this project would be developed by The Boring Co. itself, or by an outside partner focused on the tech, like Hyperloop One, for instance.

It’s also unclear what exactly Musk means by “verbal government approval,” [Update 11:41 AM PT: Bloomberg reports it was approval from within the White House] and whether that means he has the ‘okay’ to proceed with a proposal, or to actually start digging. Plus, it’ll likely require many more formal written approvals before anything can proceed.

Hyperloop One CEO Rob Lloyd has discussed how use of its tech could transform communities, and have a similar physical transportation globalizing effect to the impact made by broadband on digital communications. Connecting these communities via transit that cuts commute and cargo times to below what you would expect for getting place-to-place within any one of these communities would undoubtedly have a tremendous economic and social impact.

During an interview at the International Space Station R&D conference on Wednesday, Musk talked briefly about The Boring Company, noting that “oddly enough it’s kind of like a little low stress activity, because everyone expects us to fail.”

Musk later tweeted that there is “still a lot of work needed to receive formal approval,” which is likely an understatement to say the least with a project of this scope.

Source: TechCrunch

Why it’s Hot

Love the prospect of a major, futuristic innovation that could tangibly change my life!

Watch a bear play in an Alaskan waterfall right from Google Earth

Thanks to Voyager, Google Earth’s storytelling platform, you can now basically take an even deeper look at Alaska without having to leave your couch.

Voyager, which is essentially a collection of guided stories and tours based on maps, began streaming live content Thursday, starting with Katmai National Park in Alaska. There are five live cams in Voyager for people to use to explore.

Google partnered with Explore.org, a multimedia organization that hosts several nature livestreams, to bring this new feature to life.

To access the livestreams, users just open up the Google Earth application and head to the menu icon on the top lefthand corner of the screen. From there, simply click “Voyager,” which is demarcated by a ship’s wheel, and head to the “Nature” tab. The livestreams are branded with “explore.org” in the lower left-hand side. When we watched, we saw a bear splashing around in a waterfall and later on, another casually walking through a river.

Google didn’t say whether even more live cams would make their way to Google Earth (and when that’d be), but Explore.org founder Charles Annenberg Weingarten seems to hint at more to come in a post on Medium.

“So, please join Google and Explore.org and discover the “live world.” Whether it be the brown bears of Katmai National Park, the wild belugas and polar bears of the arctic, the bald eagles of Iowa, the elephants and hippos of Africa, the pandas of China, or a live birth of a puppy who will one day become a service dog for a soldier with PTSD — welcome to our family,” he wrote.

Source: Mashable

Why It’s Hot

Love the immersive nature of what Google Earth is and can become. The possibilities are exciting to think about.

Augmented Reality Sells Sneakers For Nike

Nike built an augmented reality application called SNKRS for users to gain access to limited-edition sneakers available for purchase. The first sneaker to debut through the app was the Nike SB Dunk High Pro Momofuku, a collaboration with David Chang, creator and owner of the Momofuku restaurant group.

For a user to gain access to the shoe, they have to open the app and point their camera at the menu at Fuki East Village Momofuku in New York. People can still gain access to the shoes elsewhere, as an online menu works as well. Users need to look for a special ‘SNKRS’ label for the app to work properly. Once scanned, the shoes are unlocked and users have an opportunity to purchase a pair, as long as they’re in stock.

Right now, the SNRKS application only works on iOS phones, but Nike plans to release a version for Android soon.

Source: PSFK

Why It’s Hot

How do brands use augmented reality in a way that engages their core audience? What’s interesting about this is (1) the audience understanding — sneaker freaks DO care about insider, unique, unlocking-type tasks and (2) the localization factor + partnership factor. However, I have to wonder what the reach is on something like this — is it a lot of effort for a little engagement?

Food Computers Use AI To Make ‘Climate Recipes’ For The Best-Tasting Crops

It’s no surprise that climate change is inciting detrimental effects on our planet, but one of the most troubling is its effect on agriculture. The MIT Media Lab is hoping to remedy this by using special “food computers” to create the perfect climates for growing food, no matter the location or time of year. That means that not only could countries farm their local crops all year round, but they could also grow crops that are not native to their region of the world, meaning they could have fresh produce on-demand. Say goodbye to having to wait for shipments!

The Open Agriculture Initiative Personal Food Computer was first created in 2015, and can study and replicate the best growing conditions for specific plants with the use of sensors, actuators and machine vision. The Personal Food Computer can alter the light, nutrients and salinity of water. As the computer watches a plant, like basil, grow, it picks up data that can be used on the next set of crops. The research team is also trying to make the food itself tastier by maximizing the number of volatile molecules inside the crop, which is made possible by leaving the computer on constantly.

Babak Hodjat, CEO of Sentient says it’s all about engineering food in a totally different way: “Ultimately, this is non-GMO GMO. You’re not messing with the plant’s DNA. You’re just allowing it to exhibit the behavior it would in nature should that kind of environment exist.”

Source: PSFK

Why it’s Hot

Rolling with the punches, so to speak. In the case of environmental change, we can adapt. Looking at something like this at scale — could be an innovation that shifts how we approach agriculture and could also inspire additional environmental innovation.

Amazon is rolling out a Dash Wand with Alexa to make you buy everything

ake Amazon wants its Prime subscribers ordering from its online store all the time, so it just cooked up a new device to help them do exactly that — and it’s essentially giving it away for free.

The company just launched a new instant-ordering gadget, the Dash Wand, that lets you fill up your Amazon shopping cart by using voice commands or scanning barcodes on the packages you have sitting in your kitchen cupboards.

The Dash Wand is essentially an updated version of the OG Amazon Dash wand that debuted in 2015, but this newer version crucially adds Amazon’s artificially intelligent assistant, Alexa, to help out. The digital assistant can sync your shopping list across Amazon devices, convert units of measurement, and search for recipes.

This is a huge upgrade for Amazon’s instant-ordering devices. The original Dash was significantly bigger, cost more than twice as much as this new one, and only worked with AmazonFresh orders.

Amazon’s really pushing the Wand, offering a similar deal to previous promotions for its instant ordering Dash buttons. If you buy a Dash Wand for $20,  you’ll qualify immediately for $20 credit for your next purchase after registering the device. It literally pays for itself — and you can opt-in for a free 90-day AmazonFresh trial, which typically costs $15 per month. It’s actually a pretty great deal for anyone with a Prime subscription.

The Wand is also magnetic, so it can live on your fridge close to all of your most frequently ordered foods, and its Alexa access makes it more useful than the Dash buttons, which are restricted to one item instant ordering.

You don’t get the full Alexa experience here, though. The Wand can’t play music, and its press-button functionality means it won’t automatically respond to the genial “Hey, Alexa” wake command.

It might sound ridiculous that the company is essentially giving the Wands away with all the discounts and incentives, but it’s a savvy business move. Making the shopping experience easier and offering a new Alexa toy to play with will only drive up orders, as if Amazon needs any help to keep its business afloat.

Source: Mashable

Why It’s Hot

Connected AI experiences make the virtual assistant craze more useful. Amazon is pushing forward on many different ways to connect Alexa with other platforms, and this is a great example of a type of utility that in a few years we will wonder how we lived without.

 

Alexa, tell Seamless I’m hungry

You can now reorder Seamless with Alexa.

From Amazon.com: Reorder meals for delivery or takeout in seconds from all your favorite Seamless restaurants.

This is a hands-free time saver for Seamless customers — and getting started is easy! Just enable the skill, link your Seamless account, and say “Alexa, open Seamless,” or “Alexa, tell Seamless I’m hungry.”

If you’re a first-time user, Alexa will ask for your preferred delivery address and payment type. Just select your preferences to complete setup. You’ll be able to enjoy the convenience of re-ordering your favorite dishes and meals with Alexa anytime.

The skill’s easiest to use — and the most beneficial for you — if you’ve ordered more than three meals with your Seamless.com account and have one or more current credit/debit cards linked to your account. As long as you have an order history, you can use the skill. Of course, it may be more fun for you if you have many past orders.

Source: Seamless.com

Why It’s Hot

We’re on the lookout for real utility this smart home and voice assistant technology. This is pretty lazy — but pretty cool.

Bank Account Will Tell You If You’re Buying Ethically

United Airlines and Pepsi are recent entries to a long list of companies consumers would rather shy away from. Boycotting has become the normal response to companies that earn public scorn. Despite its popularity, voting with one’s wallet is still a cumbersome process. Financial services startup Aspiration is trying to automate the process. Every swipe of their debit card will trigger a background check on the company you’re buying from.

The Aspiration debit card ranks the merchants using hundreds of data points. A Fast Company report details that each establishment earn points in two main categories: People and Planet. The People score is affected by how company treats its employees and the community it belongs to. The Planet score gives a number to the environmental impact a brand or product has. The system is called the Aspiration Impact Measurement (AIM).

In the mobile app, users will have an overview of their average scores which they can compare with other people. Through the use of qualitative data, ethical consumerism becomes more attainable.

Source: PSFK

Why it’s hot

Ethical buying is not new, but because of social media, now everyone is judging and watching our choices and brands’ choices. The principle of social proof is rampant. At the same time, people want things now – faster, easier and mobile. This innovation combines both to encourage behavior shifts.

MasterCard trials biometric bankcard with embedded fingerprint reader

MasterCard is trialling a Chip and PIN bankcard that includes an embedded fingerprint reader, introducing a biometric authentication layer for card payments — and taking a leaf out of the book of Apple Pay et al in the process. The thinking here being: why pay by entering a four-digit PIN when you can stick your thumb on it?

So far the biometric card has been trialled at two locations in South Africa, with additional trials planned over the next few months in Europe and Asia Pacific, according to a spokeswoman, and a full rollout expected later this year.

“We are targeting consumer rollout by end of 2017 through issuers that choose to offer biometric cards,” she told us.

MasterCard is touting convenience and security as the drivers for embedding a fingerprint sensor in plastic bankcards — after all, you can’t shoulder-surf a fingerprint as you can a PIN number. Although the use of contactless payment technology in bankcards (a tech that’s widespread in Europe) already offers a faster (and usually PIN-less) way to make card payments.

That said, there are some security risks with contactless payments, given there’s usually no authentication performed — so there could be an advantage to combining a contactless bankcard with a biometric one that also contains a fingerprint sensor in order to get speedy payments with at least a layer of security. (Although mobile fingerprint sensors have been shown to be spoofable. So the size of the sensor and the process for capturing a user’s print during enrollment are key considerations here.)

In this instance the MasterCard trial bankcard does not include contactless payment technology — but the spokeswoman told us that a future version will include contactless “adding to the simplicity, and convenience at checkout”.

For now, testers are required to insert the card into the POS terminal and then place their finger/thumb on the reader to authenticate the payment, as pictured above (vs entering a PIN into the keypad in the usual way).

The spokeswoman said the card is configured to expect the fingerprint for authenticating a purchase but does still have a PIN as a fall-back. “If the finger is too greasy or sweaty and the biometric doesn’t go through, the cardholder would experience a small delay and then asked to put in their PIN to complete the transaction,” she added. “The PIN also allows cardholders to use the card at ATMs globally.”

One relatively large drawback for the convenience of the biometric card is that the spokeswoman confirmed users are currently required to go to a bank branch in order to register and enroll their fingerprint. (Which is then converted into an encrypted digital template that is stored on the card.) Whereas bankcard users are normally mailed both their card and its PIN through the post so there’s no need to go to a branch to register before being able to use the card.

When asked about this the spokeswoman said MasterCard is “exploring ways to make remote registration possible”. Although again, while remote registration would be more convenient it could also open up the possibility for vulnerabilities with the implementation of the biometric technology — depending on how the fingerprint enrollment is performed.

One thing is clear, global payments giants are taking plenty of inspiration from mobile tech.

 

Source: TechCrunch

Why it’s Hot: 

Payment technology and security need to evolve hand in hand, or finger to finger so to speak. Using our bodies with technology is something we have talked about before, and I am intereted to see where this technology goes.

Kayak Made It Easier To Secretly Plan Vacations At Work

Tired of not so subtly switching tabs every time your boss walks by? Kayak feels your pain and wants to help you sneakily plan your vacation while at work with a desktop tool that makes their interface look like an excel spreadsheet.

This genius marketing idea is right on target with a big chunk of the Kayak demographic, and pokes fun at a universal experience: we all slack off from time to time, and planning a vacation in the office is all too familiar.

After researching their user habits, Kayak found out that 57 percent of Americans plan vacations during the workday with the biggest spike right smack in the middle, between 11 am and 12 pm.

Kayak at Work launched on Friday, March 31, but it’s still up and running—squishing early April Fool’s related suspicions.

“In support of workplace travel planning, we’ve come up with a new version of our desktop site to aid you in your search, whether you need to hide from your boss or just want to look productive,” says the company blog.


Source: PSFK

Why It’s Hot

Love the consumer-insight-driven angle, even if it is a bit silly. This maaaaybe something I already do on my own but now a brand can help me get there.

 

Google Training Ad Placement Computers to Be Offended

After seeing ads from Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble and Wal-Mart appear next to racist, anti-Semitic or terrorist videos, its engineers realized their computer models had a blind spot: They did not understand context.

Now teaching computers to understand what humans can readily grasp may be the key to calming fears among big-spending advertisers that their ads have been appearing alongside videos from extremist groups and other offensive messages.

Google engineers, product managers and policy wonks are trying to train computers to grasp the nuances of what makes certain videos objectionable. Advertisers may tolerate use of a racial epithet in a hip-hop video, for example, but may be horrified to see it used in a video from a racist skinhead group.

That ads bought by well-known companies can occasionally appear next to offensive videos has long been considered a nuisance to YouTube’s business. But the issue has gained urgency in recent weeks, as The Times of London and other outlets have written about brands that inadvertently fund extremists through automated advertising — a byproduct of a system in which YouTube shares a portion of ad sales with the creators of the content those ads appear against.

This glitch in the company’s giant, automated process turned into a public-relations nightmare. Companies like AT&T and Johnson & Johnson said they would pull their ads from YouTube, as well as Google’s display advertising business, until they could get assurances that such placement would not happen again.

“We take this as seriously as we’ve ever taken a problem,” Philipp Schindler, Google’s chief business officer, said in an interview last week. “We’ve been in emergency mode.”

Over the last two weeks, Google has changed what types of videos can carry advertising, barring ads from appearing with hate speech or discriminatory content.

It is also putting in more stringent safety standards by default, so an advertiser must choose to place ads next to more provocative content. Google created an expedited way to alert it when ads appear next to offensive content.

Google’s efforts are being noticed. Johnson & Johnson, for example, said it had resumed YouTube advertising in a number of countries. Google said other companies were starting to return.

To train the computers, Google is applying machine-learning techniques — the underlying technology for many of its biggest breakthroughs, like the self-driving car. It has also brought in large human teams (it declined to say how big) to review the appropriateness of videos that computers flagged as questionable.

Essentially, they are training computers to recognize footage of a woman in a sports bra and leggings doing yoga poses in an exercise video safe for advertising and not sexually suggestive content. Similarly, they will mark video of a Hollywood action star waving a gun as acceptable to some advertisers, while flagging a similar image involving an Islamic State gunman as inappropriate.

Armed with human-verified examples of what is safe and what is not, Google’s computer systems break down the images of a YouTube video frame by frame, analyzing every image. They also digest what is being said, the video’s description from the creator and other signals to detect patterns and identify subtle cues for what makes a video inappropriate.

The idea is for machines to eventually make the tough calls. In the instances when brands feel that Google failed to flag an inappropriate video, that example is fed back into the system so it improves over time. Google said it had already flagged five times as many videos as inappropriate for advertising, although it declined to provide absolute numbers on how many videos that entailed.

Source: NYT

British Airways Is Using Facial Recognition To Make Boarding Faster

The U.K.’s largest airline, British Airways, is making the boarding process a little less tedious by using facial recognition technology at London’s Heathrow Airport.

A biometric device at the airport’s Terminal 5 scans passengers and boarding passes, then a second facial scan at the gate confirms their identity, without having to rustle around in search of any documents.

Three gates have incorporated the system, but the airline is soon planning to expand to 33 more according to Skift. So far it’s only being used in domestic flights.

This new development fits right in with most airports’ current trend of automation. Self-check-in kiosks are in many around the globe, including Heathrow, and new opportunities for technology to take a leading role in airport security are sure to keep on popping up.

Source: PSFK

Why It’s Hot:

This just makes a ton of sense as a way to use technology to make people’s lives easier, and potentially safer.

China’s High-Tech Tool to Fight Toilet Paper Bandits

The toilet paper thieves of the Temple of Heaven Park were an elusive bunch.

They looked like most park visitors, practicing tai chi, dancing in the courtyards and stopping to take in the scent of ancient cypress and juniper trees. But hidden in their oversize shopping bags and backpacks was a secret: sheet upon sheet of crumpled toilet paper, plucked surreptitiously from public restrooms.

Now the authorities in Beijing are fighting back, going so far as to install high-tech toilet paper dispensers equipped with facial recognition software in several restrooms.

Before entering restrooms in the park, visitors must now stare into a computer mounted on the wall for three seconds before a machine dispenses a sheet of toilet paper, precisely two feet in length. If visitors require more, they are out of luck. The machine will not dispense a second roll to the same person for nine minutes.

At the Temple of Heaven Park, one of Beijing’s busiest tourist sites, many people said on Monday they were pleased by the new machines.

“The people who steal toilet paper are greedy,” said He Zhiqiang, 19, a customer service worker from the northwestern region of Ningxia. “Toilet paper is a public resource. We need to prevent waste.”

Qin Gang, 63, taking a stroll through the park with his wife, said China’s history of crippling poverty had left some people eager to exploit public goods.

“It’s a very bad habit,” Mr. Qin said. “Maybe we can use technology to change how people think.”

Not everyone was enthusiastic. Some people, frustrated by the new technology, banged their fists against the machines, which park employees said cost about $720 each.

Other visitors had more exacting critiques.

“The sheets are too short,” said Wang Jianquan, 63, a retired shopping mall manager.

Lei Zhenshan, marketing director for Shoulian Zhineng, the company in Tianjin that designed the device, said in an interview: “We brainstormed many options: fingerprints, infrared and facial recognition. We went with facial recognition, because it’s the most hygienic way.’’

Mr. Lei said an earlier version of the device was installed last year at the Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing. An official at the Temple of Heaven, who would not give her name, said the facial recognition dispensers there were on trial, and if judged a success, would be placed in all the park’s toilet

Source: New York Times

Why It’s Hot

Somethings technology can go too far. I like the idea of getting creative and using technology to solve low-tech problems, but this seems to have gone too far for what it’s worth.

New Zealand brewery turns bottles into sand

“Two thirds of the world’s beaches are retreating as people across the world use non-renewable beach sand for construction, roading and other uses,” Simon Smith, brand PR and digital manager for DB Breweries, told Digital Trends. “We had some [conversations] over beers, and came up with an idea to crush glass bottles into a sand substitute that can be used in things such as construction, roading, even golf bunkers; meaning that we can keep our beautiful beach sand where it belongs: on our beaches.”
DB Breweries has built several machines able to take empty bottles and turn them into substitute sand. All a drinker needs to do is deposit his or her bottle in the machine, which then uses miniature steel hammers to crush it into 200 grams of sand in only five seconds — after extracting the plastic labels with a vacuum system.

The ultimate goal is to provide a way of prompting people to recycle by giving them an image of what exactly it means to do so, rather than leaving it as an abstraction. “Our ambition for the campaign is for people to have something tangible to think about, such as the love of our beautiful beaches, as a reminder to recycle”

Source: Digital Trends

Why it’s Hot

Back to beer coverage, hooray! Also, I posed recently about a grocery brand using its own waste to power its trucks, and I think this is another example of brand innovating to reduce their footprint.